Interview with Joana Siquenique, now on Umbigo’s cover of the month

Mafalda Ruão interviews Joana Siquenique, author of Umbigo’s September cover, who presents a work full of colour, transparencies and movements. A kinesis of optical illusions with desires, intimacies and past memories. With the exhibition LOTE 17 about to open, the artist will disclose the harmonious details of the irregular, unpredictable and familiar, and of her grandmother; that which Joana experienced in her childhood home, as well as each one of us, in our own way.

Mafalda Ruão – Your artistic output is vivid and energetically visual – colour, form, movement. What lies beyond this immediate visual magnetism in your work?

Joana Siquenique – There is a clear attraction for these elements, and I try to create different optical illusions and cognitive perceptions, appearing through the manipulation of the material and/or objects used. Then, the conjugation with elements such as colour, transparencies, superimpositions and movement allow me to explore other possibilities.

When I was little, I had amblyopia, an optical condition for which I underwent a medical treatment: solving different practical exercises using glasses with coloured filters, which blocked the drawings’ colour. That meant I couldn’t really see the exercise, but it allowed me to see different overlapping images and colours, some blurred and some not, depending on which eye I closed. I did other types of optical examinations, which were more common, where several coloured images were used, which are superimposed. These experiences influenced me, and I noticed and look for different situations and elements in my daily life.

MR – Would you say that there is a common thread, i.e., a narrative in your creations?

JS – No, although, apart from this most obvious optical illusion, all the pieces individually have a narrative, depending on the creative process. It can either start from an object or material that interested me or be the result of a completely planned and deliberate idea. For example, in Wavy green, everything started with the material. I found the tubes and loved their shape; and spinning them reminded me of when, as a child, we used to wiggle a pencil or pen in front of our eyes and, magically, it seemed that the hard material became malleable. Those tiny memories are very much present in me and are important in the process.

MR – You talked about movement, and this is a frequent feature in your works, whether in rotation (Lazy eye, 2020), random kinesics (Wavy green, 2020) or movement suggested by construction (Iron lace, 2014; After the eating contest, 2020; Iris, 2022; Cinetica.mente, 2015). Is your attraction to movement conscious? What do you intend to communicate through it?

JS – As you are saying, movement is constant in my work, whether suggested through a play of colours or shapes that elude the eye, or using motors. This is a crucial element, which allows me to play with our perception, and one of the main components for devising these illusionary games that challenge the eye. This is a conscious means to an end.

MR – Let’s talk about the opposite of movement – Inert series, 2017 is perhaps your piece whose materialisation, although manipulated by you, is affirmed by the powerful connection to nature, by the observation and capture of something that one day emerged in that landscape. What were your inspirations for this work?

JS – Curiously, this work also started with the material itself. The copper was taken from a spool my uncles had and which I ended up buying. I was interested in its malleability, colour and brightness. I spent a long time thinking what I could do with it until I thought it logical to return the material to its source. I made a countryside installation, where I sought this contrast of the inert material, which is extracted from the earth and transformed, with nature, whose movement is organic and fluid with the wind. I also wanted to camouflage the rods in the weeds, bringing about this uncertainty of what is presented to us and what we are observing. The installation is complemented with the set of rods, as if they had been harvested.

For me it presents some questions in relation to the way we continue to exploit the earth’s natural resources and the working conditions in these industries.

MR – Because they are more intimate, some works seem to be specifically for someone – Em memória do seu jardim, 2019 and Comparei-te com uma rosa, 2022; and a third one, where you directly invoke your grandmother – Dezanove Primaveras na casa da avó, 2016. Is there a relationship between them? Can you talk about the personal context behind them?

JS – They are all about my grandmother. She was a very important person to me. She taught me a lot, including how to do all kinds of embroidery, Arraiolos rugs, how to sew. She took very good care of her garden, which was always gorgeous, bursting with colourful flowers. I often talk about my grandmother in my works, because she had a very strong presence in my life. She left a strong mark on me. And these pieces are ultimately tributes. In these particular works, I used some references that I have already mentioned, like the kind of flowers she liked most in the garden in Em memória do seu jardim; the lace series for LOTE 17, where I worked some of the naperons she made, and Dezanove Primaveras na casa da avó is a photograph of a windowpane from the house.

MRLOTE 17 is your first solo exhibition at MU.SA – Museu das Artes de Sintra, which opens on September 23. In a place that you already know, how is it to return to this venue under your own name and what can you reveal more about the series you will present?

JSLOTE 17 is my grandparents’ house. This exhibition is a tribute to what that place represents for me, a family home where I have many memories, including where I lived. For this exhibition, I wanted to aggregate some of those memories and work on them, trying to slightly recreate the warm and comforting atmosphere that I feel there. There are many references, such as the space itself and the contents of the house that I now bring to the exhibition venue in a more intimate way.

For this exhibition, I developed the lace series, which I started at the end of last year. What caught my attention most were the patterns and particularities regarding the initial geometric design, which serves as a guide, and the more organic transformation that emerges when manually reproduced. Besides, in each hole we see a different irregular shape. In other words, there are many details and visual information; and that is what makes these pieces so interesting. I also had a special guest, who worked with me and will be part of a piece: my grandfather.

MR – You already have four exhibitions in 2022: After Banquete (Lisbon, PT), If Only (Lisbon, PT), Parce Qu’on Sème (Brosses, Fr) and, for the first time, LOTE 17; besides an artistic residence (Arraiolos, PT). What else will there be this year and in the future?

JS – Soon, in October, I’m going to do a course on ceramic moulds. I really enjoy learning and developing techniques that can be useful in my work. Having an uncompromising learning process makes the creative process quite free.

As for the future, wait and see!

Master in Curatorial Studies from the University of Coimbra, and with a degree in Photography from the Portuguese Institute of Photography in Porto, and in Cultural Planning and Management, Mafalda develops her work in the areas of production, communication and activation, within the scope of Photography Festivals and Visual Arts - Encontros da Imagem, in Braga (Portugal) and Fotofestiwal, in Lodz (Poland). She also collaborated with Porto / Post / Doc: Film & Media Festival and Curtas Vila do Conde-Festival Internacional de Cinema. In 2020, and she was one of those responsible for the curatorial project of the exhibition “AEIOU: Os Espacialistas em Pro (ex)cess”, developed at Colégio das Artes, University of Coimbra. As a photographer, she was involved in laboratory projects of analogue photography and educational programs for Silverlab (Porto) and Passos Audiovisuais Associação Cultural (Braga), while dedicating herself to photography in a professional format or, spontaneously, in personal projects.

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